The Pulsing Seat of the Soul

"Blaiberg and Sweetheart19" in HAU1 - Rimini Protokoll's theatre researchers investigate the human heart

By Ulrich Seidler

28.10.2006 / Berliner Zeitung

Calm down all you romantics. The human heart can bear a great deal. It can, for example, be cooled to five degrees without breaking in two. A heart taken from a brain-dead patient stays fresh at this refrigerator temperature for six hours and can be transplanted into another person. When it is reconnected and slowly transfused with blood it begins, as if of its own volition, to do what it should; beat and pump blood.
When Heidi Mettler from Switzerland came out of anaesthesia she felt her left side - no more cables, no tubes, no battery. That was six years ago. Now she tours around the country with the theatre group Rimini Protokoll. She tells her story in HAU - somewhat short of breath and with slow gestures. She flew in a plane for the first time in her life. Her heart has flown at least one time more, having been transported to her by helicopter. And before - who knows?
Like all Rimini performers, Frau Mettler doesn't have to explore her role because it is her own biography. The team of directors Helgard Haug, Stefan Kaegi and Daniel Wetzel see their task in combining such "experts of everyday life" with each other, thereby creating a space in which new insights can be gained. In "Blaiberg and Sweetheart19", the heart transplant patient is juxtaposed with a former Canton councillor with an organ donor card: Crista D. Weisshaupt. Her son threw himself under a train. "I'm dying stoned. I know it's right", he wrote in his suicide note. His organs could not be used, but Frau Weisshaupt is sure that she would have agreed to it if it had been possible. Also on stage are Renate Behr, a cardiotechnician, who operates the heart-lung machine in the Stadtspital Triemli, and Hansueli Bertschinger, professor emeritus of Veterinary Medicine, who presents a pig's heart, and also tells us about breeding. Which brings us to a more romantic subject, which comes under the heading "heartbreak". Two matchmakers are responsible for this area - Nick Ganz, who organises so-called "speed-dating ", and Jeanne Epple, who arranges contacts with Russian women wanting to marry.
Initially it's not much more than a corny joke linking two types of "affairs of the heart" that don't really have anything to do with each other, but with which you can create a nice play on words, as the programme shows: "How can I find a suitable heart? How can I avoid rejection?" But in the course of the two hours of a calm but comprehensive evening performance the boundaries are blurred. There are lots of interesting details and it becomes increasingly unclear whether they belong on the technical or the romantic side. That a boar produces several decilitres of semen during coitus, for example. Or that Philip Blaiberg was the first living person to hold his heart in his hand after the first heart transplant in 1967. Or that every second single in Switzerland is looking for a partner on the Internet. Which unfortunately gave the Rimini researchers the idea of a virtual space in which the performers meet to lead a 'second life', beamed live into the theatre. That may sound like significant documentary theatre, but only means that the audience gets to watch the performers playing computer games.
This rather over-cool theatre essay arouses curiosity, inspires the audience to think about the issues and finally results in a slight tightening of the spectator’s chest, just as with a real romantic drama. When the marriage broker for Russian women takes the fresh pig's heart - which Professor Bertschinger has assured us is very similar to our own - cuts it into small cubes with a small, sharp knife and tosses it into a frying pan, for example. "This is how we cook hearrrts in Rrrussia!"
Blaiberg and Sweetheart19 until Oct. 30th, daily 7.30pm, HAU1, T.: 25 90 04 27


Blaiberg and sweetheart19